ALSO THIS MONTH
MARK DEWING, a freelance writer and British expatriate, moved to the U.S.A. partly to experience heavy snowfall, but primarily because he got tired of having to wait until 2:00 a.m. to watch the Super Bowl live. He has worked as a social worker, freelance photographer, tomato picker, mortuary cleaner and bookstore buyer/manager. He most recently worked within the publishing industry as a PR consultant. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, and he wishes the Dodgers still lived there too.
The Mysteries and Peculiarities of Some Foreign Sports Explained...Simply
What do brooms, googlys and scrums have in common? Each is a vital aspect of one of three foreign sports. Following on from my theme of last month - on the importance of getting to know the greatest foreign athletes - this month I thought I'd turn to some of the sports of foreign lands. Some of these sports are widely played throughout the world, whilst others are only played in a limited number of nations. To many Americans, little more is know about these sports than their name, and they are rarely argued about over a pitcher of suds in a Chicago sports bar. Yet all three of the sports about which I will to tell you are played on some level in this country too. The homegrown team sports of basketball, football and baseball are too established (through our families, schools, professional leagues, media and sports television) to allow much else into their arena. Besides Americans are damn proud to have their games, as they form a vital part of the national culture, psyche and..ur, insularity. The world's most popular game is still soccer, and that's finally spreading across this land too - thanks primarily now to the amazing Mia Hamm, so I'll skip that one. Let the games begin!
A good cricket match can take four days of play to reach a result, yet only two innings are played in all that time, and a tie is considered the most satisfactory conclusion. Between the batter and the catcher (wicketkeeper) are the wickets (2-feet-4-inches high and 9 inches wide). These are three narrow wooden stakes with two smaller sticks (bails) on top, and this is what the batter has to protect from the ball - or else he's out. Fielding a catch results in an out also, but remember no gloves - ouch! The bat is flat on one side, which should make hitting easier, but it does not. I once saw Ernie Banks (Mr. Cub) play cricket in London, and he looked very out of sorts, though he (and I) found the whole thing highly amusing. In order to score a run two batters facing each other 22 yards apart, must be on the field at the same time, and cross each other's path while running. A home run is called a "six", but when you hit one you don't run, you remain standing. Pitches (or bowls) are unlimited, so the same batter can be at the crease (in position) for several hours. He doesn't even have to swing if he doesn't want to.
Winning, is perceived by the English as rather bad form, and somewhat embarrassing to your opponent, who after all went to the trouble of showing up, and sharing a cuppa with you during the mandatory tea interval, and a warm beer after the match. One constant source of national shame is that although England invented the game, all her former colonies are much better at it than they are. Australia, whom the English always accuse of playing too rough, is the only country in the world where young lads grow up playing both cricket and baseball. The term "googly" sounds rather frightening, but it actually just refers to a decent breaking ball. Cricket like baseball has its own unique language.
The ball cannot be thrown forward, but any throw backwards can be caught by anyone on your team, even if it bounces off the ground. Usually a whole chain of guys on the run, keep passing it down a line, like Victorian firefighters passing the water bucket. Scoring is hard, since all 15 opponents will be after you at the same time, and tackling is only allowed on the ball carrier. Touchdowns are called "trys" and sprinting across the goal line isn't enough, since the ball must touch the ground with the player still holding onto it, in order to score. Deion Sanders don't go for that.
The English invented it, but once again I'm afraid their former colonies of New Zealand and South Africa are the world's greatest teams. Earlier this century all Welsh coal mines had teams, and it soon became their national game. "Rugger" was actually given rules at Rugby School in the early Victorian era. The discipline and team spirit were considered an excellent regime for the young English gentleman, and a venting alternative to school bullying (read Tom Brown's School Days). The Rugby World Cup - held only every 4 years - is just concluding right now. The US Eagles - seemingly inspired by their soccer compatriots of last year - lost all three of their games and were outscored 135-52. At least they didn't finish dead last, that honor belonged to Italy and Namibia.
The Game's Afoot!
Cricket Official US Site: www.uscf.org - Read about the internal strife created by the
two feuding US national cricket organizations!
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PHOTOS copyright © Cricket Unlimited, Rugby World Cup '99 (www.rwc99.com), Damian Amherd and Stefan Hubacher.